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Lawyers, Lobbyists and Biosecurity

8 September, 2009

An exclusive story posted this morning by The Washington Times asserts that Dr. Tara O’Toole, Obama’s nomination for undersecretary of science and technology, omitted any reference to her ties to a group that lobbies for pharmaceutical companies.  O’Toole and the Department of Homeland Security claim that it was not necessary for her to mention her position with the group because the Alliance was “not incorporated.”     HERE

Ethics is apparently not a word easily understood by anyone who stands to close to government money and power. It is evidently not unethical to spend $500,000 lobbying the government on any behalf of pharmaceutical companies so long as the lobbying group does not incorporate. That this is a method simply meant to contravene government regulations on lobbyists evidently means little to those involved.

Who is involved?  (all purple emphases are mine)

According to the Times, the Alliance for Biosecurity was formed in 2005.

[ O’Toole] has served as the group’s unpaid strategic director and has signed her name on more than a dozen letters sent to Congress and federal agencies…The letters, including one that Dr. O’Toole sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, last fall, describe the Alliance for Biosecurity as a “collaboration” among the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies “working to develop vaccines, medicines and other medical countermeasures for the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile.”

Dr. O’Toole is director of the Center for Biosecurity.

The Washington Times story points in another direction as well.

[The Alliance’s] day-to-day operations are overseen by the K Street lobbying arm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, which also lobbies on behalf of the alliance, according to records and interviews.

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The alliance’s legal counsel, Anita Cicero, is also a Drinker Biddle lawyer who serves as a lobbyist for the group…Ms. Cicero described the lobbying activities as focusing on broad issues. “The overarching advocacy issues we address run across the industry, and we do not conduct lobbying activities to advance the commercial interests of any individual member company,” she said.

Still, a review of the group’s correspondence to federal lawmakers along with member companies’ public disclosures to investors show that the lines between advocacy and commercial interests aren’t always clear. (bold emphasis mine)

On it’s website ABOUT page I found the following information.   HERE

We are dedicated to excellence in all that we do and the highest level of service to our clients.  We value highly character, professionalism and ethics.

It’s just a different understanding of the word “ethics” right?   After all, if you don’t incorporate, you don’t have to tell.  The same page also includes this list of clientele.

With nearly 700 lawyers in 12 offices, we represent clients that consist primarily of substantial businesses, healthcare providers, money and asset managers and investors, ranging from mid-sized enterprises to Fortune 50 companies. Our clients include leaders in the pharmaceuticals, communications, healthcare, information technology, insurance, investment and transportation industries.

No mention of lobbying though.

I was intrigued by the fact that the firm was founded 160 years ago, so I had to take a look at the FIRM HISTORY page. HERE Any of you who read my short series on banks knows I can’t resist the history of the big “players” in today’s history-in-the-making.

The firm was found in was founded in 1849 by John Christian Bullit who also found the Fourth Street National Bank in 1886.

Drinker Biddle’s relationship with the University of Pennsylvania dates back nearly to the founding of the firm in 1849. Partner Samuel Dickson, who joined the firm in 1863, served on the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania from 1881 until his death in 1915. He was also counsel to the university, a role that the firm would retain for many years.

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After the Civil War, a close association was formed between a law firm and an investment banking client that would endure for more than a century. Spurred by industrial expansion and corporate finance, John C. Bullitt presided over the formation of Drexel, Morgan & Co., merging the brokerage firms of Drexel & Co. with Morgan, Dabney & Co. Bullitt’s counsel extended over the full range of the business of a private bank, including accepting deposits, making short-term commercial loans, financing foreign trade, promoting commodities exchange, providing brokerage services, and sponsoring new offerings of government and corporate securities.

Following the death of Anthony Drexel in 1895, Drexel, Morgan & Co. was renamed J.P. Morgan & Co., and the company shifted its key presence from Philadelphia to New York. The firm has since represented dozens of prominent financial institutions, among them Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., a current relationship that began in 1911.

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…1904 marked the arrival of Henry S. Drinker, Jr., who became a dominant presence in the firm for 50 years. Drinker was the executive voice of the firm from the time he emerged as a firm leader in the 1920s until the 1950s.  Educated at Haverford College, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania

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[Charles J. Biddle] arrived at the firm in 1924, and of all lawyers who joined the firm in the 1920s, he had the greatest impact on its future. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law SchoolIn the 1950s, he led the defense of Merck Sharp & Dohme in one of the firm’s first major price-fixing cases. At a trial in Trenton, N.J., he argued successfully for Merck’s acquittal alongside Thomas E. Dewey, the former governor and presidential candidate, who represented Eli Lilly.

There is no need for me to continue to quote the firm’s history to you.  You can go read it for yourself.  I am always caught up the appearance of coincidence so I ask you to look closely at this history.  I have not mentioned the companies close ties to U.S. presidents since its founding, but skim the history and you will see for yourself.  Nor have I mentioned the 2006  & 2008 mergers with  Chicago law firms.

Princeton, Harvard, Merck and Chicago, Morgan.   Does it make anyone else’s nose twitch?

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